USNA Masqueraders’ Importance of Being Earnest
Of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest 1895 premiere, critic William Archer wrote in The World newspaper, “What can a poor critic do with a play which raises no principle, whether of art or morals, creates its own canons and conventions and is nothing but an absolutely willful expression of an irrepressibly witty personality?”
Wilde’s irrepressible wit lives on, irresistible to even the tradition-revering United States Naval Academy’s oldest club, the Masqueraders.
The Importance of Being Earnest recounts the adventures of two young men who adopt alternate personalities to escape rigid Victorian social norms.
Algernon Moncrieff has an imaginary friend who conveniently falls ill whenever a social engagement needs escaping. Jack Worthington goes by the name Ernest in the city and by Jack with his young ward, Gwendolen Fairfax, in the county. Identities are traded as in As You Like It, and trying to keep up with them is part of the fun.
At some point it became vogue for men to play the haughty, social-climbing Lady Bracknell. Think of her as an earlier version of Hairspray’s Edna Turnblad. Lady Bracknell is one of the grand forces of theater, and Earnest usually succeeds or fails on this performance. Masqueraders’ Jett Watson nails the imperious Lady B.
Another spark of this production is a secondary character, Reverend Chasuble, played broadly by Chris Hudson with great comedic timing.
Jonathan Lucas’ John Worthing, aka Ernest, grows more comfortable and effective scene by scene. James Frevola’s Clark Gable-ish smirk works well for the irrepressible Algernon Moncrieff, also aka Ernest.
Cecily Cardew is portrayed by Jen Underhill without much depth until she shares scenes with Gwendolen Fairfax, portrayed by Jamie Moroney. When the two women (who are both engaged to Ernest, but each to a different Ernest) plot against the men, the actresses become more convincing. The deus ex machine role is Miss Prism, played by Megan Rausch.
An unexpected strength is provided by Leith Daghistani, who has coached the cast into accurate British accents.
Director Christy Stanlake uses mostly the front half of stage, improving the sound but limiting the scope of the show. Pacing, actors’ movements and interplay are well done. Costuming is effective.
Set design is mixed. The intentionally over-decorated first set looks like a Turkish nightmare. Worse, its decorative trim hampers the actors. The second set is successful and the third is best.
Unnecessary 1960s-’70s’ music before and after the show and at intermission is distracting. The Pink Panther theme? Masquerade? The point is belabored.
But Wilde, as ever, is witty enough.